The woman taking on Duterte in a press freedom fight in the Philippines

By Hannah Ellis-Petersen/theguardian.com – The warning signs were all there. But Maria Ressa says “I never saw it coming.”

The founder and driving force behind the Philippines news organisation Rappler admits to surprise when President Rodrigo Duterte effectively declared war on her journalists and heralded with it the biggest threat to freedom of the press the country has seen in decades.

Rappler has only been in existence since 2012, beginning as an online news start-up with 12 reporters, established by Ressa, a former CNN Bureau chief. But over the past two months this small yet bullish group has been at the forefront of a battle against eroding press freedom in the Philippines. Duterte’s spokesperson – in language eerily evocative of Donald Trump’s White House – declared that “not only is Rappler’s news fake, it being Filipino is also fake.”

It is an assault which began in January when their license was revoked and has quickly intensified as the year has gone on, with Rappler’s political correspondent barred from the Presidential palace for briefings. Then, last week, the government announced they were investigating Rappler for evading $2.5m of tax – a complaint Ressa called “ludicrous”.

Ressa is now in a highly politicised David and Goliath fight for the survival of Rappler, which has reached the Supreme Court.

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